Case Study: The Accommodating Manager Meets the Challenging Coach

Many times, an individual is promoted to a management position as a result of strong job skills. Such was the case with Mary, a registered nurse who was promoted to director of nursing for a large hospital. As a nurse, Mary’s helpful, supportive nature led to many accolades from patients and physicians. However, the hospital was faced with financial challenges driven by low reimbursement rates and lack of efficiency. As the director of nursing, Mary was responsible for improving efficiency without compromising quality, as reimbursement rates were not projected to increase.

Mary’s nursing teams were averse to change, and she found herself accepting their excuses for not being able to achieve the new goals. As a result, Mary was failing in her work and feeling like she had made the wrong choice in accepting the director position.

Recognizing her strong strategic-thinking abilities and industry knowledge, the hospital administrator extended the opportunity for Mary to work with a coach to overcome her leadership challenges. Through Mary’s assessments, the coach was able to illustrate that Mary was extremely accommodating and service-oriented, and she had a tendency to yield in conflict. Although these were assets in her role as a registered nurse, they became liabilities in her new role. The coach used the assessment data to stimulate dialogue. Mary confided in the coach that she was uncomfortable when the nurses pushed back and when having discussions with poor performers.

On the other hand, the coach was always known as a challenger, someone who questioned the status quo and acted as a changeagent. Throughout the coaching engagement, the coach encouraged Mary to identify changes that needed to be made, helped her to create a process for getting commitment from skeptical staff members, rehearsed difficult conversations, and provided a system of accountability for seeing changes through to completion.

However, there was great risk in this relationship. The coach’s challenging style could have easily pushed Mary to be turned off by these more aggressive management techniques. And, the coach could have lost patience with Mary’s conflict-averse nature.

To keep this from happening, the coach reflected on her own personal style before each coaching meeting. She challenged Mary to be more aggressive, but only in a sensitive, cautious manner. She carefully walked Mary through specific examples of the situations she faced, asked probing questions, and responded with empathy. She encouraged Mary to take small steps at first, to build confidence in her ability to make changes. Over time, Mary came to appreciate the coach’s challenges and worked with her to create change. She found the right balance to achieve her goals by borrowing some techniques and style-pointers from her coach.

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